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Tim Yan's buyer's guide to AK optics and mounts

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The combination of an Aimpoint optic and an RS Regulate mount come recommended by Tim Yan. There’s a slot for the two bolts so that the optic can be affixed directly over the bore.

by Rob Kay

Several years ago while wandering the floor of the SHOT Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center I was fortunate enough to literally bump into Tim Yan. 

Yan is a freelance writer and IMO Field Editor with articles published in Shotgun News, G&A: Book of the AR15, G&A Handguns, G&A: Book of the AK47, Be Ready!, and other InterMedia Outdoors Special Interest Publications (SIP). He’s also the resident optic editor for The Firearms Blog.

A five year veteran of the US Marine Corps, he served as a marksmanship instructor in the 1st Marine Division deployed in Somalia and the Sandbox. Tim has contributed his knowledge of foreign weapons to Marine Corps publications, Jane’s Defence and other firearms books. With a background in information technology and multimedia, he is interested in any tech gadgets and equipment that are related to firearms and the shooting sports.

I’ll go out on a limb and say I’ve never run into anyone who knows as much about AR and AK glass than Tim Yan.

We’ve become friends and over the last couple of years he’s been a great source for many of my stories.

Tim was kind enough to be interviewed for this story which will be featured in an upcoming book I’m writing on how to buy an AK.


Tim Yan

Q: You did a major piece on AK mounts for Guns & Ammo. What did you discover about AK scope mounts in doing the research for that piece?

A: There are really only two suitable locations to mount an optic on an AK. The side mount on the receiver, and the handguard/gas tube mount. Not all AKs have the receiver side mount, however, it’s relatively easy for a gunsmith to install one on a stamped receiver.

Q: What do you think about the Texas Weapon Systems and Parabellum “Dog Leg” style Rail dust covers?

A: The TWS and Parabellum dust covers and rear sights maybe ok for the recreational shooter (but for other applications) I don’t recommend them.

Q: If you were to recommend a couple of QD style scope mounts for the AK, what would they be and why?

A: Any of the RS Regulate modular models, the Arsenal SM-13, Midwest Industries’ AK side rail flat-top, single and dual 30mm ring type scope mounts will work. All of them, except for the Midwest Industries flat-top mount, offer very low bore-axis but still allow removal of the dust cover.

Arsenal SM-13 scope mount is also a good option.

The RS Regulate design is the best because it allows adjustment for side-to-side sight alignment as well as front and back adjustment for eye relief and field of view. The Arsenal and MI are made to fit the Russian and Bulgarian pattern side-rail. They could be a little off for other AK variants.

Q: What about rail systems or handguards to mount optics? Got any favorites?

A: Krebs Custom, Midwest Industries, Arsenal and the Manticore Arms. The Krebs Custom UFM keymod handguard is nicely made and has a removable 1913 rail top that holds zero. The MI’s offerings come in many options in both the rail interfaces and the dedicated optic top pieces. These include modular, quad-rail, keymod or M-Lock. The top half of the MI design is really the modular part with nine different optic-specific interchangeable top covers. This includes options for the popular Aimpoint Micro T1 and 30mm body, and, the standard 1913 rail.

If you prefer just a solid quad-rail, Arsenal’s billet handguard, which was originally made for a military contract has an actual the cleaning rod hole which allows you to keep the full-length AK cleaning rod on the weapon.

Manticore makes a very affordable but good quality polymer handguard for the Yugo pattern AK called the “Renegade” as well as for my favorite, the M92 shorty. Manticore also offers an optional optic-specific top half designed for the Aimpoint T1 and the Burris Fast Fire type small red-dot sight.

Yes, Virginia, it is possible to co-witness on an AK. This shot courtesy of Ultimak.

Q: Is it really possible to get a bottom one third co-witness with an AK scope?

A: Many optics using the MI top cover and the Manticore top half will co-witness with the stock AK iron sight. (Although, in most of those cases, it’s more of a lower ¼ co-witness). Another option is the gas-tube type rail mount offered by Rifle Dynamics and Troy Industries. Those replace the stock AK gas-tube with one that has picatinny rail machined on top. There are two down sides for the gas tube mount: the optic probably needs to be re-zeroed after removing the gas tube for cleaning. (On an AK, you probably don’t have to do that too often if you use a long gas tube bore brush for cleaning).

Another issue is the heat build-up from being the actual gas tube. It’s known to kill cheap red-dots and some older EOTech models with a polymer bottom housing.

As for the receiver side mount, RS Regulate’s Aimpoint T1 and 30mm mount offer a true lower 1/3 co-witness. MI’s 30mm ring side mount also allow mounting an Aimpoint 30mm body model for a lower 1/3 co-witness.

You don’t hear a lot about the Hi-Lux Micro-Max B-Dot but it’s a favorite of Tim’s for budget users. Shown here atop a Krebs rail system.

Q: Let’s switch the topic to optics.  We’ll start with red dots.  Can you provide with some budget, midrange and high end red dots for an AK?

A: The best red-dot sight for AK is the Aimpoint Micro T1 or T2.  It’s small and lightweight but a bit expensive. The next down at $350-$400 is the Aimpoint PRO. (They are based on the older Aimpoint 30mm tube size models).

On the more budget end, I really like the new Hi-Lux Micro-Max B-Dot mini-red dot sight. It has flip-up caps and 2 MOA dot like the Aimpoint T2. Its battery life even surpassed the Aimpoints with 55,000 hours from just a CR2032 lithium battery and it carries a spare one in it cap. It also has a Aimpoint Micro compatible screw pattern in its base to use with the RS Regulate direct mount. We have drop tested amd used this optic on the IWI Negev belt-fed machine gun and its been tested in temperatures from -85 F. to +180 F in a cryo-chamber by Alexander Arms. It’s also been recoil tested by firing 300 rounds of .338 Lapua Mag while mounted on an Alexander Arms Ulfberht semi-auto rifle. During the recent Big 3 Media event in Daytona Beach, we mounted the Hi-Lux on a Rifle Dynamics AK owned by Bill Geissele and did mag dumps until the rifle was too hot to hold. The gas tube rail was actually red-hot and the little Hi-Lux sight mounted on it was still working fine. Not bad for a $200 sight.

Midwest Industries’ modular AK handguard works the Aimpoint series and a number of other models.

I am not a big fan of the Trijicon RMR or other type of mini-reflex sights in that category, mostly due to their tiny field of view, especially if it’s mounted on the handguard position.

Q: Can you recommend a good combination of red dot and scope mount for someone who is buying their first AK?

If you AK have a receiver side rail, I would recommend the RS Regulate AK300 direct mount for one of Aimpoint or the Hi-Lux. I prefer mounting the red-dot as far back as possible for the largest field of view. Scot from RS Regulate likes to mounting the red-dot just behind the rear sight for the best balance on the weapon.

If your AK doesn’t have a receiver side-rail or has a milled receiver, I would recommend the Midwest Industries’ modular AK handguard with the Aimpoint Micro T1 top cover for the T1/T2/Hi-Lux or the 30mm ring top cover for the APO/PRO. I prefer the direct mount type because it’s solid mounting and less thing to go wrong.

Q: What about some hologram optics? Which would you recommend?

If you like EOTech’s laser holographic sights, Tim prefers the XPS over the EXPS

A: As far as EOTech’s laser holographic sights go, I recommend the XPS (which has a lower bore height) rather than the EXPS. Actually, all the EOTech models are too high for AK and the battery life is relatively short. Another projection type sight with large square sight ocular window is the Meprolight M5. The Meprolight uses a red-dot style LED projection instead of using laser on the EOTech, and has the battery life close to that of the Aimpoint. However, the Meprolight sights have the same height issue on the AK.

Q: What about prism scopes? Any 1×4 glass you might recommend?

A: My favorite prism sight is the ELCAN but like the EOTech they are too high and too heavy for the AK. I also wouldn’t recommend any of the Trijicon ACOG TA31 4×32 models for AK because of their very short eye relief. The ACOG TA11 3.5x35mm model is better, but it’s big and heavy. My preferred ACOG for the AK is the TA33 3x30mm Compact ACOG model with the 7.62×39 BDC reticle. If you have a 5.45×39 caliber AK, then any of the 5.56mm M4 Carbine BDC models would work for you.  (The trajectory for both calibers are very close to about 300 meters).

If you like Trijicon, Tim’s preference is the TA33 3x30mm Compact ACOG

There’s a lesser known ELCAN Specter OS 3.0 3x32mm model would work just as well as the Trijicon ACOG because it’s the only ELCAN that uses internal adjustment and features the M16 carrying handle style mounting. The ELCAN 3x32mm model offers significant bigger field of view and a inch more eye relief than the Compact ACOG 3x30mm. The drawback of the ELCAN is it has a busy reticle and lacks daylight illumination, plus it’s a good 3-4 ounces heavier.

On the budget end, I have had success with the Burris AR-332 (3x32mm) and AR-536 (5x36mm) prism sight. Both are around the $350-$450 price range. Both utilize a version of the Burris reticle that offers a very thick outer ring for fast target acquisition at close range and BDC dots for range out to 600 meters. Both models also have switchable red and green day visible reticle illumination.

All of the above sights uses the ACOG mounting screw pattern and therefor could be used on an RS Regulate ACOG mount for the lowest sight height on an AK.

Now lets talk about the lower magnification prism sight such as the Mini ACOG 1.5x16mm and the new Vortext Spitfire 1x. Those are great red-dot sight alternatives for those of us that have bad eyesight. By featuring an etched reticle on the glass, those lower magnification prism sights have a couple of advantages over an red-dot. The reticle will be still useable if the battery dies and it allows for BDC and other shapes in the reticle design.

The etched reticle forces the shooter’s eye to focus on it, which works especially well for those of us with astigmatism.

The MeoTac 1-4×22 RD costs about $1000 but has the same quality as a Swarovski and Schmidt & Bender

Q: I see a lot of 1×4 scopes out there. Can you recommend a high end model?

A: On the higher end, I recommending the Meopta MeoTac 1-4x22mm RD tactical scope. Don’t let the price of $999 shock you, the Meopta tactical 1×4 scope is actually at the same level as the Swarovski and Schmidt & Bender in term of optical performance and daylight reticle illumination, plus it offers a true 1x at the low magnification. I think Meopta is the best keep secret in the premium Euro optics. The Meopta’s BDC are calibrated for the 5.56mm NATO, so, it will work just fine with 5.45x39m AK74. For the 7.62x39mm caliber, since the Meopta’s BDC hashmarks are not named, it’s easy to figure out the hold-over for each of the 3 small chevrons.

The best midrange 1-4x scope for the AK in Tim’s opinion is the CMR from Leatherwood

Q: You did a review several years ago of the CMR from Leatherwood. Would you still recommend that scope for an AK user?

A: I think that is still the best 1-4x scope for the AK. Hi-Lux Leatherwood is now offering two tiers of the CMR models. There the original and the CMR4 model with a better grade of glass. The latter has capped turrets with the MIL-MIL adjustment and the windage turret is relocated to the left side. Both AK models of CMR have a reticle BDC out to 900 meters for the 7.62x39mm. I actually tested that out to 1000 yds (914 meters), with a Noveske AR in 300 Blackout, which the ballistic matches on the 7.62×39 mm.

Q: What is your impression of the Russian produced optics for the AK?  Do you recommend them and if so, which models do you like?

A: The Russian military uses a variety of combat optics on their AK, some of those are not available to the commercial market and most are not available in the US. The Russian red-dot sights are in general not very good. Most are heavy and have a short battery life. That’s why the Russian SOF units use Aimpoints and EOTechs. On the other hand, their prism sights are surprisingly good. For example, the Russian Kashtan 2.8x prism sight has an impressive 13-degree field of view. The PSU 1x/4x switchable sight I tested is the only alternative to the ELCAN Specter DR.

Kashtan 2.8x mounted on an AK

Keep in mind that if you acquire a Russian optic via mail order, the biggest issues you will have are the warranty and customer service. If anything goes wrong you may have to ship the item back to Russia for repair. I don’t trust the Russian postal system and there may be ITAR restrictions in regarding to sending weapon accessory to another country.

If you go this route I would only recommend that you buy optics made in the NPZ factory (Novosibirsk Instrument Plant) for top quality Russian made optics.

The good news is that WPA, Wolf Performance Ammunition, will be importing the NPZ made optics and night-vision scopes to the US market. WPA’s Wolf Optics division will be handling the customer support and warranty in the US. They are importing the PSU 1x/4x, Kashtan 2.8x and the Rakurz 1x prism sight. The PSO 4x and 6x models will be also imported in the SVD, Saiga and Vepr side mount. I’m not sure if WPA will be importing AK specific mount models, but they are working with RS Regulate to adapt their sights and night-vision for AK mounting.

Photos courtesy of  Rob Kay, Ultimak, Leatherwood, Meopta, Trijicon, Meopta. EOTech, and Midwest Industries

Questions?  Comments?  Contact us at [email protected]

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